Reimagining how to take a photo with John Geven | Profoto (NL)

Reimagining how to take a photo with John Geven

22 January, 2023

Written by: Shannon Sharpe

Portrait photographer John Geven’s approach to his craft is different from any photographer in the world. Faced with adversity, he created his own process, and the results are breathtaking. Discover how John captures the souls of his subjects through his use of light.

When portrait photographer John Geven first submitted photographs to Profoto’s creative learning hub, Share the Light, he didn’t know it was a contest. In fact, he didn’t realize it until he received a notification that he won. “I just saw it as a way to show my work,” he says.

For John to be able to do just that is even more impressive than most photographers. That’s because he’s never held a camera. At 19 years old, John was paralyzed in over 90% of his body due to a diving accident, preventing him from moving his hands and fingers. But after watching a friend, who was a hobbyist in photography, John developed a passion for the art. He just needed to find a way to pursue it.

So John connected with the Technical University of Eindhoven and, working with 50 students over the course of three years, he created a modified studio. He was finally able to take his first photograph using a mobile robot tripod with a digital camera, squeezing the cable release with his mouth.


Up close and personal

But it’s the moment right before he pushes the shutter that John truly loves. “It’s the unknowing of whether the combination of the lighting and the subject will create this magic,” he says. He’s developed his own approach on how to achieve this magic. “I try to find a relationship with everyone I photograph,” he explains. It puts his subjects at ease, allowing him to capture their true personalities.

Such as when he photographed members of the soccer team Helmond Sport. He knew that, as athletes, they might be closed off. “I asked them personal but simple questions about their childhood or favorite things,” he says. “All of a sudden, you have a real conversation with someone. They feel liberated and barriers are broken. The result is great, authentic photos.”

John also takes a physical approach. “I always photograph my subjects sitting down,” he says. “I have a special wobbly stool. It forces people to shift and look for balance. They constantly need to adjust their posture. It makes for great body movement and angles.”

Seeing the light

While John never had formal photography training, he’s understood the importance of shaping light from the moment he started shooting. “In the beginning, I immediately bought various softboxes, beauty dishes, hardboxes, fresnels and snoots from Profoto,” he muses. “I haven’t taught myself much about working with a camera, but rather working with the light.”

Shaping light is how John captures those deeper connections he’s made with his subjects. The key, he emphasizes, is to not overthink it. There are no set guidelines; every shoot is different, and John lets light lead the way. “I love to play with light,” he says, explaining that he does so whether it’s for a commissioned assignment with tight guidelines or one that gives him free hand for interpretation. “I have practiced so much light manipulation that when a client gives me a brief, then I go for it. Instinct and feeling are important for every photo. You can create your own signature style.”

John always passes on this advice to his colleagues. “As a studio photographer nothing is more important than the light,” he says. This is why John chooses to solely work with Profoto gear. He points to Profoto’s ProHeads and softboxes as examples, as well as the B10X Plus, which he soon will be working with. “I find it ideal that in some cases I can work with four lamps simultaneously with the power of the generator. Every ProHead can be set subtly, and I love that.”

The final result? Deeply impactful photos. “My work speaks for itself,” he muses. “You may love it. You may hate it. But to me, that makes no difference, as long as it instills an emotion in you. All that I have made, I have made with this incredible light.”

Discover more of John Geven's lighting setups on Share the Light or go behind the scenes with him on Youtube.

Written by: Shannon Sharpe